The abuse began moments after tip-off of Notre Dame's game with Maryland last Saturday, when Terrapins fans started serenading Irish senior forward Dan Miller every time he touched the ball. Two seasons ago Miller was a Terp, an off-the-bench contributor on a team that reached the Final Four. He chose to leave College Park for a bigger role in a mellower environment just before Maryland broke through for its first NCAA title. Thus the catcalls during lulls in last weekend's BB&T Classic: "Where's your ring, Danny?"
If Miller's reaction to that hostility seemed insouciant—"Just background noise," he called it—his performance proved that the hecklers were indeed wasting their breath. He scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Irish beat the Terps, and a day later he went for 20 and eight in a defeat of Texas for the title. In each game Miller delivered a dagger by hitting a three-pointer in the final minutes, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.
Last season Miller practiced with the Irish, but under NCAA rules he couldn't appear in games. On game days he could do little more than shoot on his own or lift weights. He would join his teammates to watch Maryland on TV, sometimes pointing out the play the Terps were running, always pulling for his former team. Nonetheless, says Irish senior guard Matt Carroll, "It was tough for him, seeing them go back to the Final Four without him. But if he hadn't transferred, from October to February he wouldn't have been happy."
Miller is the temperamental opposite of Maryland coach Gary Williams; he's a private, reserved kid who declined Notre Dame's offer of media training. He has found a more felicitous match in Irish coach Mike Brey, who coached Dan's older brother, Greg, at Delaware. Dan's satisfaction lies in more than just increased playing time. Notre Dame's unstructured offense allows him both to handle the ball on the wing and to take a smaller man into the post.
If it seems as though Miller has reinvented his name along with his game, he has—he goes by Dan, not Danny. There's a story behind that; a traveling team coach first called him Danny, and other basketball people picked up on it, until he became " Maryland's Danny Miller." With a fresh start in South Bend he has chosen to clarify that to friends and family he has always been Dan. "He's more a Dan than a Danny anyway," says Irish assistant Sean Kearney. "He's a pretty serious kid."
Miller emphasizes what Notre Dame has given him. But as the Irish make their debut in the Top 25 at No. 10 this week, he'll be called on to give back to a team that features no one else who has been remotely near a Final Four. "We need him to hunt for his shot, play 34 minutes, and lead," says Brey. "He can talk to our guys about how to negotiate the territory we're in now."